2016 ACT comparison for states that test all graduates – Composite Scores for Whites

Now that I explained in an earlier blog why you cannot get a good picture of Kentucky’s true performance on the ACT college entrance test versus other states by only looking at overall average scores, let’s examine how the Bluegrass State’s white students stacked up against whites in the 17 other states where 100 percent of the graduates took this test in 2016. Information on which states did 100 percent testing is found on Pages 14 and 15 in the ACT’s “Condition of College & Career Readiness 2016, Nation” report.

It’s important to do such comparisons only with states like Kentucky that test all students, as in many states the ACT is an optional test selected by students and there’s no valid random sample-type score data available for those states.

It’s also important to break the data out by race, as we explained in our previous blog that examined the Kentucky and Louisiana 2016 scores.

The following graph tells part of the story about Kentucky’s performance.

ACT Composite Comparison for 100 PCT States 2016

At first look, you might be pleased that Kentucky, while ranking fairly low, isn’t at the bottom of the heap for 2016. However, some things are going on that moderate this picture a bit. Click the “Read more” link to see how Kentucky matches up against states that have similar levels of experience with 100 percent testing of graduates with the ACT.

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2016 ACT again shows you have to disaggregate scores to compare state-to-state results

Before we get into comparisons of the data between Kentucky and elsewhere on the just-released 2016 high school graduates’ ACT scores, I need to point out again why it’s important to break the data out by race when you compare relative state-to-state performance in education, ACT scores most definitely included.

To explain why you have to look at the disaggregated scores, let’s look at the brand new, 2016 high school graduates’ ACT Composite Scores for Kentucky and charter-school rich Louisiana.

The table below summarizes the data. The data sources are the ACT, Inc.’s 2016 Profile Reports for Kentucky and Louisiana.

Kentucky Vs Louisiana 2016

Because these profile reports come directly from ACT, the data include graduates from all school types in each state – public, private and homeschool combined. However, the results probably match the public school results fairly closely.

First, look at the top line in the table, which shows the “All Students” data. This shows that there was a total of 50,809 high school graduates tested in Kentucky in 2016 and a fairly identical total of 48,692 graduates who tested in Louisiana. Other information found on Pages 14 and 15 in the “Condition of College & Career Readiness 2016, Nation” report shows that both states tested 100 percent of their graduates in 2016. This means comparisons between the two states are reasonable.

The table also reveals that Kentucky’s average ACT Composite Score for “all students” (actually all 2016 graduates) was 20.0 while Louisiana’s was lower at 19.5.

So, Kentucky did better than Louisiana…Right?


Take a look at the rest of the rows in the table, which show what happens when we disaggregate the scores by race.

Very simply, Louisiana outscores Kentucky for every racial group except Asians, and the score difference for Asians really isn’t notable.

Now which state looks like it is performing better for its students?

This is why I object in this day and age about many reports we are still getting in Kentucky that only list overall “all students” scores. Those reports do not provide solid information about how Kentucky is really doing. In fact, those reports just inflate our state’s real educational performance.

We won’t make that mistake here, and we will now look at more state comparisons in our next blogs.

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2016 ACT shows Kentucky’s achievement gaps slowly getting worse or staying stagnant

The ACT scores for 2016 high school graduates were released today.

Thanks to heightened interest in the state’s achievement gap issues due to Common Core (see here, here and here for some examples), I decided to look at the trends in white minus black achievement gaps on this college-entrance test first.

This table summarizes what has happened to Kentucky’s white minus black ACT achievement gaps between 2013, the first year that ACT revised the way it reports score results, and the latest 2016 graduates’ results.

Gap Changes 2013 to 2016 Summary Table

At best, there has not been any progress in reducing the gaps since ACT, Inc. changed its reporting format.

In fact, with gaps unchanged in three areas but actually increasing slightly in English and science, I think it’s fair to say that Kentucky’s largest minority student group experienced a slight achievement gap decay during the past three years.

More details on the gaps situation and Kentucky’s actual white and black ACT scores from 2013 to 2016 along with comments from Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt, are available by clicking on the “Read more” link to see those subject-by-subject breakdowns.

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More on the quality control problems with Kentucky’s high school diplomas – Part 5

Last week I started this blog series, which shows why we’re concerned at BIPPS about the quality of high school diplomas being awarded in Kentucky.

I looked at two separate indicators of diploma quality in each of Kentucky’s 168 school districts that have high schools.

One approach analyzed the variation between high school diploma award rates and the proficiency rates on the state’s Algebra II End-of-Course Exam (EOC). This approach is worthwhile because Kentucky’s regulations require competency in Algebra II material to graduate. While success on the Algebra II EOC is not a graduation requirement, districts with very large variations between graduation rates and Algebra II EOC proficiency rates still should raise flags. This is particularly true when other Kentucky school districts are producing graduation rates much more in line with their Algebra II numbers.

The second analysis compared high school diploma award rates to the proportion of graduates able to meet at least one of Kentucky’s official college and/or career ready (CCR) criteria. Since readiness is a stated goal in Kentucky, students that cannot even meet the modest requirements in the state’s official CCR criteria raise doubts as to their true academic performance. If Kentucky is to live up to its readiness promise to the students and citizens of the commonwealth, we must not have high graduation numbers with only small proportions of those graduates able to meet at least one official readiness criterion.

Since we earlier created two separate analysis spreadsheets, for today’s blog, I combine the results from those two separate spreadsheets into one, overall examination of diploma quality. The table below contains the top 10 and bottom 10 districts from the combined listing. A full Excel spreadsheet with all districts listed is available as Grad Rate Combined Comparison Alg II and Eff Grad Rates Together Clean Final.

Once again, you want your school system to be at the bottom of this listing where we find school districts like Beechwood and Murray.

School districts ranking at the top, such as Williamburg Independent, generate the most concern regarding the quality of their high school diplomas.

Combined Grad Rate Comparison

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Bluegrass Beacon: Happy talk won’t raise grad rates


Feel-good reports like the Johns Hopkins School of Education and Civic Enterprises’ study, “For all Kids: How Kentucky is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students,” simply drive the volume of happy talk backing the status quo up another level.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that since there are no common standards from state to state concerning what students need in order to earn a quality high school diploma, there can be no meaningful comparison of states’ graduation rates.

Certainly, no credible claims can be made that education gaps are closing between poor and more-fortunate students.

However, to further assert that Kentucky is closing those gaps because it refuses to allow charter schools makes the entire report suitable for little more than placement in the bottom of bird cages.

No amount of happy talk can cover up the ludicrousness of such a claim, especially considering a recent report from the much-more respected Mathematica Policy Research group found students attending charter high schools in Florida and Chicago were more likely to graduate, enroll in college and complete at least two years of some kind of post-secondary education, not to speak of earning a 13-percent higher income between the ages of 23 and 25 than their peers who attended traditional schools.

Neither can the Hopkins report hide the fact that no one from the education bureaucracy displays much interest in addressing the failure of Kentucky school districts to abide by state standards supposedly required to earn a diploma.

If education leaders were paying attention, they wouldn’t be bragging about an 88 percent graduation rate when the proficiency rate on the commonwealth’s Algebra II End-of-Course exam has not exceeded 40 percent during the past four years.

Why aren’t Kentucky’s education leaders requiring districts to abide by regulations stipulating that makes competency in Algebra II a high school graduation requirement?

Leaders also should not be cheering when only about 67 percent of Kentucky’s 2015 high school graduates were able to meet at least one of the various methods used to establish college and career readiness.

Figure this into the graduation equation and you will discover that while 88 percent of Kentucky students who enter high school may indeed wear a robe, walk across a stage and flip tassels, fewer than 60 percent of entering ninth-graders are leaving the commonwealth’s public-school system ready for college or career.

That’s an effective graduation rate below 60 percent for which no amount of happy talk can remedy.

Meanwhile, Kentucky is a bottom feeder in nearly every credible workforce-development category done by any credible publication, even as we have employers wanting to expand but who are greatly hindered by a lack of adequately prepared workers.

According to Wayne D. Lewis Jr., Ph.D., executive director of education programs in the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and an associate professor of education leadership at the University of Kentucky, the Bluegrass State’s labor-force participation rate of less than 58 percent ranked No. 47 out of 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia in 2015.

“In sum, not nearly enough Kentuckians are working, and a major factor contributing to our labor force woes is our failure to equip all of our students with the knowledge and skills needed for gainful employment,” Lewis wrote in “The Education Policy Matters” blog. “That failure has in turn led to our challenges with attracting companies with high wage jobs to Kentucky, jobs that require a pipeline of skilled workers. There is no doubt about it, we have to do better.”

Finally, some real talk to replace the happy gibberish.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

Schools ‘clean up their act’ and students come

What do you think about this?

Whirlpool Corporation installed clothes washers and driers in a small number of schools with lots of disadvantaged kids – and attendance and grades went up.

Could boosting school attendance and grades in high needs schools really be this simple? Someone needs to try it in Kentucky!

GE, are you listening?

Speaking of Soccer stadiums: Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters speaks to the Louisville Tea Party, Hardin Co. GOP women

Louisville Tea PartyA new taxpayer-funded study released last week is the latest attempt by the Fischer administration to include the use of public dollars for constructing a new stadium for the Louisville City FC Soccer club. All three funding scenarios considered by the study involved some use of taxpayer dollars.

The whole process by which the city is trying to force taxpayers to help fund a new stadium for the USL (minor league) club looks very much like an on-field version of the game show Jeopardy, where contestants already know the answer and only have to come up with the question.

Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters explains here, here and here why taxpayer involvement in these projects is not sound fiscal policy.

Waters will speak on this issue at Thursday’s (8/18) Louisville Tea Party meeting @ 7 pm @ the Ramada Inn, 9700 Bluegrass Parkway, Louisville 40299.

He also will be speaking on Tuesday (8/16) to the Hardin County Republican Women’s Club @ 6 p.m. @ the Stone Hearth Restaurant, 1001 N. Mulberry St., Elizabethtown 42701.

Bluegrass Beacon – Medicaid reform: Compassionate or cruel?

BluegrassBeaconLogoAn example of how the British government in the 19th century used the magic of incentives to improve survival rates of prisoners transported on ships to Australia could offer clues about how to right Kentucky’s listing Medicaid program.

For years, barely half the Australian-bound prisoners survived these voyages.

Despite ardent appeals from church, humanitarian and government leaders imploring ship captains to improve conditions, survival rates failed to change.

Finally, social reformer Edwin Chadwick recommended offering different incentives by adjusting how ship captains were compensated.

Chadwick suggested that instead of paying captains a fee for each prisoner who walked onto their ships in England, they would be paid only for prisoners who walked off ships in Australia.

Changing the incentives for captains immediately and dramatically improved survival rates to more than 98 percent.

Captains now protected prisoners’ health and well-being by providing them with better food and hygiene during their passage, as well as reducing the number of inmates crowded into each ship.

Incentives achieved what even appeals from the clergy failed to accomplish.

The right kind of inducements also can bring about some dramatic improvements in Kentucky’s health-insurance policy.

Adding hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians to Medicaid by expanding eligibility resulted in dangerously overcrowding the commonwealth’s Obamacare ship.

Close to 30 percent of Kentucky’s entire population is now crammed into this tilting vessel.

Supporters of the government-run plan brag about and receive nationwide acclaim for building such a beautiful, shiny sparkling ship.

Yet stroll through the lower decks and you will find an overloaded vessel with humiliating conditions from which too many enrollees may never exit – unless incentives are changed.

Plus, as degrading as the conditions on those British ships were, the captains always knew their destination.

However, a major point of confusion concerning Kentucky’s Obamacare ship is its true terminus.

Not everyone agrees that the anchor of government dependency should be lifted, allowing this ship to sail into a harbor filled with opportunities for able-bodied adult Kentuckians to find decent jobs and earn a good living in order to achieve the kind of lifestyle that allows them to purchase their own health-insurance plans and receive care from doctors they choose.

Opponents of Gov. Matt Bevin’s Kentucky HEALTH plan – which seeks to improve the chances of most of the recent Medicaid enrollees reaching a destination of dignity by paying a small premium, getting treatment for an addiction, training for a job or volunteering in their community – seem wholly uninterested in allowing anyone off the ship.

They go to great lengths to avoid confronting their antagonism toward teaching fellow Kentuckians to fish instead of keeping them dependent on government fish.

They also often attempt to change the conversation altogether by focusing on groups that will experience little, if any, change should Washington approve the Bevin administration’s proposed reforms.

Absolutely nothing in Bevin’s plan would, for example, change benefits for children, pregnant women, the disabled or poor.

Still, a letter writer in western Kentucky thinks I’m “mean-spirited” and “lacking compassion” because I support incentives designed to get prisoners off the ship, out of a defeated and miserable lifestyle into a victorious, productive life.

How compassionate is it to adamantly oppose incentives that will keep Kentucky’s Medicaid ship from sinking by sailing into the harbor and unloading able-bodied adults crammed onto its decks, giving them the opportunity to move into a place where they can contribute greatly to our society and maybe even help others?

If the Obama administration wants to show true compassion, it not only will approve the Bevin administration’s waiver request to implement the HEALTH plan’s thoughtful and reasonable incentives, it will do so immediately and enthusiastically.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

Wall Street Journal: The Charter School Advantage

The Wall Street Journal often takes an interesting look at public education topics. In this editorial, it is clear that the Journal is impressed with the performance of charter schools in New York.

It is also interesting to read the reader comments for this article. It seems like there is a lot of understanding that our school system needs school choice.

It’s too bad that New York’s kids get to benefit from charters while union-influenced folks in Kentucky continue to block this productive educational improvement for our kids.

More on the quality control problems with Kentucky’s high school diplomas – Part 4

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, if it did nothing else, a recently released, rather disappointing report about For All Kids, How Kentucky is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students did focus attention on how Kentucky’s low-income students are faring. So, my Part 3 blog in this series took a look at an Algebra II versus graduation rate analysis for Kentucky’s low-income kids. Today, we examine how what the Hopkins report calls Kentucky’s “low-income” high school graduates match up to the state’s non-low-income graduates when we consider their relative readiness for college and/or careers (CCR).

Just as we saw with the Algebra II example, the CCR-based evaluation of low-income versus non-low-income graduation statistics shows on a proportionate basis that more Hollow Diplomas are being awarded to Kentucky’s poorer students.

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